Learning to lead with Heart

Dave Siebs


Shortly before my injury. Post trauma, getting back in the saddle has a slightly new meaning. Looking forward to my next adventure.

Shortly before my injury. Post trauma, getting “back in the saddle” has a slightly new meaning. Looking forward to my next adventure.

A little over two months ago, I woke up in the ICU at Stanford University Hospital in Palo Alto California.  I was completely immobilized, and trying to absorb details about my injuries that were coming from the mouth of a very serious and worried looking nurse. I tried to focus though the narcotic haze on the many faces around my bed – why are all these people here?  I am OK, right? After all, I walked in here.

The nurse held my hand and asked, “Do you know where you are?” (I start to think this might be a bad sign).  She continued, “You are in the Stanford University Hospital.  You are in the Intensive Care Unit.  I want you to remain very still: move only your eyes and we will do the rest, OK?”


There is something both dramatic and sublime about a serious injury that can have a very clarifying effect on your thinking.  I had been thrown from a horse the previous day but I did not know that I had several fractures and a lacerated spleen.  Fortunately for me, my injuries turned out to be less serious, and after two months in recovery, I returned to my family in Virginia.  I give a great deal of credit for my speedy recovery to the awesome Nurses, Doctors and Staff at the Stanford University Hospital.

For most of my stay in the hospital, I was immobilized.  For most of the several weeks in recovery, I was instructed to “remain quiet.”  This gave me a lot of time to think.  In short: I was really bored.  So, convinced that I was going to fully recover, and being past the higher risk period, my thoughts turned to what I do: I look at how people and organizations get things done.

During my stay in the Trauma Unit, I was beyond impressed with the quality of the healthcare I was provided and how well I was treated, not just as a patient, but as a person.  It may sound a little strange to transition to the business side of such an emotionally charged event, but I was constantly amazed by the consistent quality of care, movement of information between units, the high quality staff and the “ownership” behaviors exhibited by everyone I encountered from the doctors, to the nurses, specialists, and even the people who came to clean my room: I was not just a patient- I was their customer.

What do I mean by this?  Here are some examples from my experience.

Efficiency of triage

Immediately recognizing that I had a serious injury, the ER bypassed the normal paperwork and insurance processing and processed me as a kind of “John Doe” until I was stabilized.  Sometimes it’s OK to cut to the front of the line.

Clear Communication

Each individual who came in to see me in the ER explained who they were and what they were there to do.  They explained each process and procedure with elementary clarity, without talking down to me.  They often asked me if I had questions or issues to be addressed.  I had both a social worker visit me to discuss my condition and later a “customer service” coordinator to independently assess whether or not I was “happy” with the care and treatment I received.  This same experience was repeated when I was in the ICU.  Again, they introduced themselves, explained what they were doing and asked me questions.  They were positive, humorous and engaging.  Everyone called me by my name.  After two days I was discharged to the Trauma Unit for the remainder of my stay.  Once again, I was impressed with the quality and consistency of the positive, authentic and genuine compassion that I felt during my interactions with the caregivers.  This was not just the doctors and nurses, but the IV therapy specialists, the nursing assistants and (most impressive) the services personnel who came to clean the room.  All of the people I encountered demonstrated what I would call “ownership” behaviors.  They were all equally committed to delivering the best care to me, and treating me like a person, not a patient.

Personal connection

I was impressed with the people on staff for many reasons.

Authenticity: I felt that my caregivers (nurses, doctors, attendants, etc) really cared about me as a person.

Compassion: They gave me hope for my condition with the small gestures, like holding my hand, asking me questions, and generally just being kind and encouraging.  Oh, and smile.  Never underestimate the power of a genuine smile.

Optimism: At no time did my caregivers focus on my “illness” they focused on my healing process- to them it was about “possibilities.”  This was especially true of the nurses on the staff.  They encouraged me to do what I could to help the healing process, and advocated for me for the appropriate treatment of my pain or for other therapies that would help my condition.

Follow through: Once I was released from the hospital to recover at my friend’s home, the follow up care I received was excellent.  When I called Stanford’s Trauma Center, I was connected with a nurse or nurse practitioner, who answered all of my questions, gave me advice, and most of all: listened and treated me with compassion and behaved with authenticity and encouraged me to do the things I did not think I could do, or did not want to do, to advance my condition in a positive way.

Be Positive:  The Doctors, Nurses and Staff were always friendly, upbeat and positive in all their interactions with me.  During my hospitalization, I remained positive, open and receptive.  I engaged each of the caregivers and tried to make a personal connection with each of them.  I never lost sight of, or faith in, my full recovery.  Expressing a friendly, pleasant and positive attitude invites others to do the same.  It invited more conversation, advice, and interaction- people are nice to people who are nice.  It is also equally important for me to be authentic, genuine and compassionate, and I did just that with all the people I encountered.  I was understood and empathized with how busy they were- and always expressing my (genuine) thanks and gratitude for their help.  All interactions with people are a two way street and it is always the right thing to do to treat everyone with respect.

Lessons Learned

Now, being a management consultant and working with companies on strategy and business modeling, I was first impressed with how they had turned the typical Emergency Room processes on its head and redesigned it with both the patient and customer in mind.  Second, I was impressed with how uniformly the healthcare staff, especially the nurses, seemed to treat me with compassion, and behave in an authentic manner.  The business model I observed was that Stanford University Hospital was not about being a better hospital, it was about being genuine, authentic and dong the right thing for a person- not just a patient.

I believe that all of us in the business community have something valuable to learn from the patient-centered (or customer centered?) care delivered by the Emergency Room, ICU, Trauma Center and outpatient services at Stanford University Hospital. While a customer-focused business model design is key, the real value added comes with the genuine care and compassion of the employees.

I am in contact with Stanford University Hospital now, and I hope to get more details on how they have made all this work together.  I hope to be able to write more about this in the near future.

So, as we look at organizations or companies we admire, that have excellent customer service and the highest standards for quality, lets ask ourselves: how can we infuse more authenticity and compassion into our business and your interactions with others?

It’s not something you can fake.  I believe that it starts with the heart.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.